About Eleazar Fernandez

Course instructor at United Theological Seminary

Peaceful Warriors

Peaceful Warriors

by htc

My Palestinian friends, the women and children at the Jalazoune Refugee Camp.

I saw a mutual appreciation of the beauty of the this desert land that these people call home, and of these people whom I now wondrously call family, of the beauty of their customs that they live out in pride.

I saw our mutual anguish over the devastation of domiciles and waterways by war and disrespect, over the devastation of the Palestinians by people full of unresolved trauma and insecurity, over devastation of a culture by the oppressor.

Out hands touched, we shared cardamom coffee, we took iphone photos, and in that brief time I felt the exchange of friendship and female mutuality.

I felt the beginning of friendship, did you my middle eastern friends?

I felt the beginning of a sharing of ideas, of mutual concern for each others’ welfare, of a commitment to the guarding of human rights.

I felt the ending of being uninformed about each other, of being too different from each other to have anything in common, of being strangers to each other.

Our feet walked the same path for a short while, but in that brief span our paths were the same and I felt my understanding surge.

I understood why the Palestinians hold this God-given land sacred, of why they demand to cling to this inheritance and their ways, and why they have tenaciously survived all these centuries.

My political understanding soared regarding the oppression of this nation by the state of Israel and the vagaries of international awareness of the situation.

I did feel God’s presence, though.

I felt God smile at the joy of discovering the same desire to dress attractively, to exercise and eat well, always to establish healthy boundaries; in the happiness of playing tickle with angelic children at summer camp, and hugging and kissing them as I do my own twins.

I felt God cry, witnessing the lack of potable water, free and secure jobs without work permits, parity between taxes paid and utility services received, freedom to drive all roadways and thoroughfares, immediate access to healthcare, normal access to public transportation, proper and full education, living without fear of house demolitions in the middle of the night, witnessing intimidation of young Israeli soldiers at every step of daily life, living without fear that a son is being coerced in prison to become a traitor to his people.

I was bereft when they asked why I could not return the next day.

I saw myself in these women and children’s eyes. I felt the beginning of new acquaintanceship and deeper understanding of pain in the world and gratefulness for my little world of privilege at home. Most importantly, I felt the Holy Spirit in and around me and my circle of expanded relationships. We will remember each other.



Wounded Wounder or Mending Healer?

Wounded Wounding, Mending Healing

Our group had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem (Jewish Holocaust Museum).  This was not my first visit to a Jewish Holocaust Museum. I had the chance to visit the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Washington DC some seventeen years ago.  This time, with a more critical hermeneutic lens, I saw or recognize something I was not fully prepared to see then. I saw a sentence that reads:  “A citizen of the Reich is a Subject of the State who has a German blood” (source:  Citizenship Law. September 15, 1935).

I like to believe that we learn from history, but sadly we often don’t. The State of Israel’s desire to form a Jewish state in the heart of Palestine mirrors the acts of its former oppressor (Third Reich). This time the victims of the once victimized are the Palestinians. Recalling Henri Nouwen’s work, Wounded Healer, it does not necessarily and always follow that the wounded is healer. Without the experience of healing, the wounded is more likely to wound others. As one puts it, “a pain that is not healed is transferred.” 




Foul Water

Foul Water


“…The river does what words would love,

Keeping its appearance

By insisting on disappearance;

Its only life surrendered

To the event of pilgrimage,

Carrying the origin to the end,

…Water: voice of grief,

Cry of love,

…Water: vehicle and idiom

Of all the inner voyaging

That keeps us alive.

Blessed be water,

Our first mother.

(John O’Donohue,  To Bless the Space Between Us)

Per person, Palestinians are allocated 36 liters of water daily while Jersusalemites receive 360 liters. The UN sets the daily minimum at 110 liters per day. To attempt to make up the gap, Palestinian keep black storage tanks on top of their houses to siphon off the main water supply. This activity is restricted to  the nighttime of hours of 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Volume and pressure quickly plummet as neighbors compete for limited availability. Only 20% of Palestinian dwellings are connected to sewage systems. Primitive in construction, they often break down, interrupting  treatment function. The remaining Palestinian population directly dumps their waste in cesspits.  Remember that the ancients used cisterns for the same purpose. For these non-contiguous  communities it becomes cost prohibitive to hire tankers to pump out wastewater (B’Tselem, “Foul Play”, 2009, 19). Untreated wastewater thus flows freely through streams and valleys throughout the West Bank introducing major health problems for the Palestinian people as well as livestock and contaminating the food supply.

After the second Intifada in 2000, the road outside Jalazoune Refugee Camp closed for eight years because of a nearby Israeli military base.  At the corner of the roadway sits a boys’ elementary school. One day a youngster, about 6 or 7 years old, accidently threw a stone that hit a soldier’s Jeep. They militia beat the boy senseless, bound his ankles and tied his hands to the back of the vehicle. They dragged his little body through the streets of the camp as a warning to other children. As they dumped his body on the ground the soldiers held his mother and siblings at gunpoint, preventing them from cradling and comforting him. Only after he died were they allowed to touch him.

At the passport control in Ramallah, more than 60 women have given birth near the turnstile because the Israeli soldiers refuse to allow the mothers through fast enough to reach a hospital. Many of the newborns are stillborn.

This horrific situation seemingly is unique, but has been repeated throughout history. There were the Native American Apartheid, American Slavery, Russian Genocide, the  Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian oppression, South African Apartheid, the Killing Fields of Vietnam, the Rawandan Massacre, to name but a few. It is the Palestinians who are suffering now, in this land.

 Fortunately there are people, some of whom we have met on our trip, who are transcendent in their views. One of them is Jean Zaru, Clerk of the Friends Meeting in Ramallah, whom we met yesterday. She believes that neither the oppressor nor the oppressed are free and never will be until the structures of domination and power begin to shift. For the Palestinian refugees, the situation is corrosive to the very core of their dignity as human beings. The degree of separation and violence is greater than in South Africa, said Dr. Mira Rizek, General Secretary of the YWCA-Palestine.

If the Old Testament prophets visited Jerusalem and Ramallah would they recognize the harsh and unremitting political circumstances, ostensibly grounded in Biblical tradition? I think not. There is a good chance they would probably be imprisoned. 


Speaking Up

Tuesday was a busy day beginning with our visit to the Holocaust Museum. There we saw horrific pictures reflecting the inhumanity that was perpetrated on European Jews by Nazi Germany.    While of such event is unconscionable, inhumanity continues; this time it is the Palestinians who suffer at the hands of the Israeli Government.   The parallels of oppression are strikingly similar to that which innocent Jews suffered under the Nazi oppression.  As I reflect upon the current tragedy, I am mindful that the seeds of inhumanity exist within the heart of each one of us.  The irony of oppression is that those who were oppressed can become the oppressors. So it is with the inhumane policies of the Israeli Government over the Palestinian people.  Palestinian people are forced to undergo humiliation, death and destruction as Israeli policies make their lives insufferable. Tragically they have become refugees in their own land. Israeli settlements are illegally encroaching onto Palestinian lands without regard for the people of Palestine.  Many have lost their homes to Israeli settlers and the Palestinian people are not allowed to build homes on their own land.  Our group met a Palestinian family who had their home destroyed five times and are in the process of rebuilding it for the sixth time. His previous homes were surrounded by soldiers and bulldozed in the middle of the night.  His family was traumatized and his wife and one of their children are now suffering from PTSD.  Later our group learned of the humiliation of the many checkpoints that Palestinians have to pass through and the fact that people have to wait for many hours to make sure they get to work on time. Children are humiliated at these checkpoints as well as they attempt to go to school.  And even more tragically, children who have thrown stones at Israeli soldiers or tanks are placed in prison with adults and tortured until they admit to crimes they never committed. The oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli Government is tragic.  It is in effect a holocaust.  The Israeli government’s strategically designed matrix of control restricts Palestinians right to travel to other areas within their region and as a result many families have been divided with little hope of reunification. Their land is slowly being stolen and their human rights are being denied.  We must never forget what inhumanity is capable of.  We must speak up for the rights of the Palestinians and their desire to live in peace alongside the Israelis.  

Jan Murphy

Shifting and Multiple Identities, Belongings, and Locations

One day our group went to the Golan Heights (a territory occupied by Israel since 1967 which belongs to Syria). Its terrain, resources (e.g., water source), green vegetation, etc., would make one understand that it is strategic in a comprehensive sense, not only militarily. Our group stopped by at a cherry farm and I had the chance to ask a few questions (through the help of Peter Makari because Jamil can only speak in Arabic) to a farmer by the name of Jamil. I asked him if he was in the area during the war with Israel and if he was Syrian. He confirmed that he is Syrian by birth and nationality and also carries an Israeli ID. Afterwards he spoke about his love for his land, which explains why he did not leave the place even during the war that led to the occupation. As a person living in a land (his own land) now under Israeli occupation, he said that he is loyal to whoever is the ruling power (now the State of Israel). He abides by the rules of the occupier in order to survive. But, at the end of the conversation, he expressed his longing for the return of the territory to Syria.     

My awareness of the politics of identity was all the more heightened during this trip. Israel-Palestine is one of the best places in the world to study the politics of identity. Identity is a construct, and identity shifts. Identity is fluid and can be multiple. One does not have to move physically in order to experience shifting identity and location. In some instances, it is the boundary of the nation that moves. One’s identity is subject to political vicissitudes, and it can be terribly oppressive. This has been the plight of Palestinians and of Syrians in the Golan Heights.



I have found myself alone in a different way. More attentive to the self I have brought along. My more subtle eye watching  what my senses encounter.  My ear quickly attunes to the timbre of Arabic and Hebrew and  I am immensely frustrated and saddened that I cannot understand casual conversation.  Bumping up against the language barrier I am thusly evermore a sheep, dependent on one of our leaders and our new guide. But  what I meet touches deeply a part that lies a little lower at home:

The reading of the Koran and Call to Prayer blaring out over loudspeakers throughout all of Nazareth exactly at 9:24 p.m.;

 The wife of a Palestinian cherry farmer who sits the day long on their tiny plot of land, ravaged by the harsh, hot climate;

The bored Israeli soldiers pulling up in a Jeep just to check in on a bunch of middle-aged women;

The love and generosity of spirit of Palestinians toward their oppressor;

The Women in Black weekly Friday protest, sustained by Jewish women committed to the Palestinian Refugee cause for the past 24 years.

The 1000-year old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane;

The horrific conditions of Jesus’ prison confinement and scourging deep underground.

Though this may seem like a travelogue, it is not. This is country where ancient and modern clash at first for  the newcomer and then begin to merge into daily reality. Jerusalem is a city that challenges one on every level, theologically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Transformation is unavoidable.


A Visit to the Old City of Jerusalem

Today (June 23) was the day that we visited the old city of Jerusalem. We walked for much of the day visiting Holy Sites. I was filled with wonder as I stood on Holy Ground with many others who also came to honor the Lord’s Passion, death, and resurrection. As I contemplated the politics that put Jesus to death, I am mindful of the many Palestinians who have lost their lives because of the injustices of oppression.

by Jan Murphy



Stop the Occupation

“Stop the Occupation”

On June 22, 2012 we had the privilege of joining a rally to end the “occupation” of Palestinian lands by the State of Israel. As I saw the placards and thought about taking pictures to be posted on our blogs, I was worried that without setting the context, the words “Stop the Occupation” might be construed differently. It is not about stopping the Occupy Movement, because it is an ally cause to the Occupy Movement, but about stopping the occupation of Palestinian lands, which continues. Jewish settlers, with the blessings of the State of Israel, continue to grab Palestinian lands. Palestinians are living under Israeli occupation. One aspect that grabbed my attention was that the rally to end the “occupation” was organized and led by a group called “Women in Black” (organized in 1988) which is a group of Jewish women. Their struggle to stop the occupation is a testimony that people can transcend ethnic and religious differences. On the other hand, the presence of counter-demonstrators supporting the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands is a proof that we still have a long way to go. What I have known in theory became a reality: the counter-demonstrators (avid supporters of the occupation of Palestinian lands) invaded our picket line and started attacking our group, shouting nasty words such as “fools,” “Nazis,” etc., and grabbing our placards. Why are they so threatened? Why can they not allow other views and narratives?

Indeed, the journey is long. We need to nourish ourselves for the long haul!



Traveling for Transformation


Traveling for Transformation

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore

 for a very long time.”

-André Gide, French novelist

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

-Mark Twain

Leaving home to travel to a far away country, even if it is with a group, takes courage. This is much more so for a first time traveler, and even more so if one chooses to travel beyond the comforts of standard tourism. This is the kind of travel that takes one into the hearts and homes of the common people, especially the little ones. It takes courage to leave the familiar and be porous to the unfamiliar. It takes courage to relinquish control and be on the receiving side of the generosity and kindness of strangers. Humility and openness are marks of courage: they are marks of those who have gained the courage to take the great journey of transformation.

Travel, when done with sensitivity and care, “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Unfortunately, many of us travel without this sensitivity and care, which only reinforces our prejudices and bigotry. We travel expecting to find what we have at home or to be entertained with something exotic. We travel without deep understanding of the power differentials between countries and peoples. If travel is to be transformative, we need to leave some of our baggage. I am thinking of the baggage we carry in our minds: our prejudices and our privileges. When we do this, our travel can be a transforming experience of a lifetime. Our outward journey (travel to a world out there) can become inward journey of transformation, and our inward journey of transformation can become outward journey of transformation.

 E Fernandez







Preparing for the Trip

Earlier this week I re-read 1 Samuel 17: 1-50, the story of David and Goliath. David advocates for himself to his older brother, Saul, that he is trained and capable of slaying the Philistine. In the numerous attempts that lions and bears have made on the family’s sheep farm, David manages to pry open the savage beasts mouths, kill them and sever their heads. David was often understood to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Today, however, the situation is reversed. Israel stands tall, powerful and sophisticated in it’s “bronzed helmet” and “suit of mail” tanks and modern weaponry, the Goliath of the Mediterranean, while Palestine is the shepherd boy still flinging his five stones from the Wadi at the soldiers. Today, Israel has succeeded in manipulating this tremendous power differential wherein Palestinians are shoved out of and off their property, moved to non-contiguous and discrete areas, often with only intermittent water supplies.

That the UCC holds a public position of solidarity with the Palestinians was as new to me as my membership in this denomination. Thus, the learning curve has been steep. This will be my first overseas trip with global justice as the focus, rather than tourism. I relish the thought of taking this step of being pushed and pulled outside my (sometimes selfishness) comfort zone. God has been preparing me for this for some time, which is very exciting. It is the start of something altogether new in my life. The comfortable, privileged life will be left at home while the vulnerable part will come along. Our mentors will be those who devote their lives to bringing change and lasting peace to this area of the world. My hope is to stay present and grounded in the midst of this new environment.

I have always been fascinated by the rich culture of the Jewish faith, ever since the first Jewish family in my childhood hometown moved in next door with a daughter my age. I also made a new Jewish friend last term at seminary. So moments before our departure to the Mideast I also feel conflicted about sustaining old friendships, that we don’t have acrimony, distrust, betrayal and unnecessary anger between and among us. One can’t cavalierly flick this off as a business relationship with those clearer boundaries. It is personal on many levels. I need guidance in learning a new language of posture and peace.